Change your Vocabulary, Change your Economy

With all the changes in technology that are impacting our world, the language used to describe the innovations are changing just as quickly. As part of some research for a project in Loudoun County, Virginia, I came across articles with certain terms that I took note of as being unusual in the realm of economic development, but that I’m sure will start to pop up more and more as information technology (IT) plays a greater role in all aspects of our economy. The following is a list of words and terms that economic developers growing information based economies (i.e. all of us!) should be familiar with:

  • Industry 4.0: Current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and cognitive computing. Industry 4.0 creates what has been called a "smart factory" because the machines can talk to each other, connect with transportation and logistical needs, and coordinate all aspects of the supply chain.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): The interconnection via the internet of computing devices that are embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. So, when your refrigerator senses that you are running low on eggnog and it automatically updates your cell phone shopping list – just what I need coming into the holiday season. 
  • “____ as a Service”: Systems and equipment that are maintained by a third party so that each company doesn’t need to maintain their own. Having a third-party involved makes it less expensive and risky than having to make the upfront investment and allows for easy access to the most up-to-date technology. Furthermore, it allows the company to be focused on their business rather than information technology maintenance – it is another example of how no matter what industry you are in there is an IT component. There is:
    • Software as a Service (SaaS): A software distribution model in which a third-party provider hosts applications and makes them available to customers over the Internet.  
    • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): A cloud provider hosts the infrastructure components traditionally present in an on-premise data center, including servers, storage and networking hardware.
    • Platform as a service (PaaS): A category of cloud computing services that provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app.
  • Machine learning and deep learning: Application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. This allows for manufacturing equipment and other machines to make changes on the fly and adjust to changing inputs and other factors, increasing productivity for the facility.
  • Cobots: Collaborative robots that work alongside humans rather than autonomously or with limited guidance. Look out for an upcoming Navigator article about jobs that are at risk for automation – interesting to think about in relation to workforce development efforts and economic growth projections. 

So what does this mean for economic developers?

Besides needing to get a new dictionary, the bottom line is that our entire workforce will need to acquire the skills to manage and maintain these technologies. When your “smart refrigerator” is talking to your coffee pot and your Alexa all at the same time, you better believe the skills of repair men and women need to be shifting as well. And with all that talking between devices, I’m thinking they might need some counseling skills thrown in there too.

Increased use of these technologies throughout the economy is going to drive the future of innovation and productivity, so what can economic developers do?

  • Work with workforce development partners to create career pathways that provide the training and skills necessary for workers to excel in all areas. Consider partnerships with high schools, tech schools, and industry leaders to create learning labs where students can establish and refine their IT skills.
  • Communicate with industry partners about opportunities to further embrace Industry 4.0 and other technology to enhance productivity, and as a result, be able to compete with the more modern facilities.  
  • Stay current on trends in innovation related to economic development and the incentives, programs, policies, and support that are necessary to encourage your economy’s evolution. As with all transformation, those communities that do not embrace it will certainly be left behind.
  • Highlight success stories surrounding innovation and bring various industry partners together to talk about ways they can all work together to pursue implementation of technological advances. Opportunities may exist for coordinated training, purchasing of equipment, or creation of partner applications.
  • Encourage, establish, and support life-long learning opportunities for all sectors of the workforce to be able to learn new skills and advance in their careers as they keep up with new technology.

What other words have you come across that would be a good addition to this list? What is your organization doing to support businesses in their effort to continuously evolve?


Sources: Oxford Dictionary, Wikipedia, and others to create easy to understand definitions.

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